Last weekend, I had the good fortune of viewing Frog Chemical Water You, one of many wonderful films that were part of the DC Environmental Film Festival. Frog Chemical Water You is a 17-minute film on how chemicals affect our environment. I liked the film because, even though it is quite clear regarding the harsh facts of the impact of our use of chemicals on the environment, it includes simple steps we can take to reduce our chemical footprint. One step is to create our own kitchen cleaner (the recipe is included at the end of this post).
As a member of Team EcoEtsy, a group of crafters with Etsy stores who are dedicated to following sustainable practices, I have been privy to several discussions on making your own household cleaners. Recently, the topic of Sodium Borate (Borax) came up, along with the issue of how safe it is.
According the Mountain Rose Herbs’ data sheet on Borax, it is a mineral, which “naturally occurs from the repeated evaporation of seasonal lakes.” While it is natural, Mountain Rose Herbs does warn that Borax is “Not to be ingested, large doses may be fatal. May cause irritation if exposed to the skin, eyes, or if inhaled. Handle with caution, and keep away from children and pets.”
A report published in the International Journal of Toxicology stated that “Sodium Borate and Boric Acid, in concentrations of 5%, are safe as cosmetic ingredients when used as currently recommended (not in food products). However, cosmetic formulations containing free Sodium Borate or Boric Acid at this concentration should not be used on infant or injured skin.”
And a post on the EcoEtsy team listserv listed one article that advises caution in using Borax, while another says that it is safe to use in your home. Not having a chemistry background, I was not sure how to weigh and balance all of this information.
So, when two producers of Frog Chemical Water You offered to take questions after the film, I was the first one to step up to the mike and ask them about the safety of Borax. Dr. Shirlee Tan (a biologist who specializes in environmental toxicology, wildlife toxicology, and cellular and molecular biology) and Dr. Christiana Grim were very helpful. They said that overall Borax is pretty safe and has a low toxicity profile.
Because of the conflicting information I have come across in trying to determine the safety of various ingredients, I asked them for definitive sources of scientific information on chemicals. They suggested I search the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database, which I already use all the time as a resource. They also recommended looking at the Materials Safety Data Sheets for any given chemicals (here is one for Borax). Being unfamiliar with the nomenclature of Materials Safety Data Sheets, I found this resource helpful in deciphering the information.
After sifting through all of this information, I have come to the conclusion that Borax is safe to use in homemade cleaning products, as long as you use common sense in handling it. Don’t handle it if you have cuts, abrasions, or burns on your hands, don’t ingest it, and definitely don’t let your kids and pets get into it.
Recipe for Homemade All-Purpose Household Cleaner
- 3 cups of hot water
- 2 Tablespoons of vinegar
- 1/4 cup of Borax (sodium borate)
- 1 Tablespoon of phosphate-free dishwashing liquid (like Seventh Generation)
Mix well and store in a spray bottle. Use as you would any commercial cleaner.